Front Page Talking Points


Federal agencies react after newspaper shows employers illegally hire young migrants for tough jobs


1.gifBriefly summarize other news about your age group.

2.gifList two facts from any article about employees or a workplace.

3.gifDescribe the response to a different health or safety situation.

In 1850, legendary English author Charles Dickens crusaded against workplace exploitation of children in "David Copperfield," his classic novel about a boy working in a wine-bottling factory since age 10. Now under-age labor in 2023 causes alarm and compassion. A front-page New York Times project recently showed that thousands of migrant children who crossed the southern U.S. border alone are working in factories, kitchens, laundromats, industrial bakeries, cereal plants, auto parts factories, construction sites and sawmills – "some of the most punishing jobs in the country."

The paper found "12-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee. Underage slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi and North Carolina. Children sawing planks of wood on overnight shifts in South Dakota." All are trying to survive and sending money back home to help families in Mexico and countries south of there. The minors fled poverty, violence and political instability. They were processed by U.S. officials at border crossings and given temporary asylum or (permission to stay, pronounced AH-sigh-lumm) or special visas under a Biden administration policy that began in 2021.

"In the last two years, more than 250,000 children have entered the United States by themselves, many of them from Central America," reporter Hannah Dreier writes in a follow-up about her article. "I found that thousands of them had ended up in hard jobs that break child labor laws." The White House reacted swiftly, creating a Taskforce to Combat Child Labor Exploitation and vowing more aggressive investigations of companies benefiting from their work. The administration is asking Congress to increase spending on investigations and enforcement of child labor laws, and wants lawmakers to raise the maximum fine for violations – currently $15,138 per child. "That's not high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies," Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said a day after The Times' article Feb. 26. "This is not a 19th century problem -- this is a today problem," he added. Another federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is in charge of sheltering newly arrived minors fleeing persecution or danger and monitoring them to avoid exploitation after release to relatives, acquaintances or other sponsors.

The new revelations also bring congressional calls for stricter laws to prevent and penalize the use of child labor, as well as tougher screening of those given custody of migrant children. "Kids belong in lunch lines, not assembly lines," says Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "More can and must be done to protect children, including migrant children, and the Senate will look at every option to prevent children from being exploited." A Republican, Rep. Representative James Comer of Kentucky, accuses HHS of an "abject failure to ensure the safety of migrant children."

U.S. labor secretary says: "We need Congress to come to the table, we need states to come to the table. This is a problem that will take all of us to stop." – Marty Walsh

Senator says: "This [child labor] law is old and the penalties are so low as to be a joke. This is a growing problem." – Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii

Columnist says: "It's a powerful reminder that the migration crisis isn't just happening at the southern border." – Bret Stephens, The New York Times

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.